November 3, 2017 // 11:05 a.m.
Logitech has unveiled a keyboard specifically designed for use in virtual reality, combining the HTC Vive Tracker add-on with a Logitech G gaming keyboard to 'solve the problem of text entry in virtual reality.'
Virtual reality (VR), in contrast with augmented reality (AR), is designed to cut the user off from the outside world. While there may be some small crossover - such as an indicator where real-world obstacles like walls are present, so you don't go head-first through the drywall - the idea of VR is that you are fully immersed in an entirely virtual world. This, of course, makes control an issue: While the motion controllers bundled with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and the like allow you to interact with objects through grabbing, poking, prodding, and twisting, the lack the physical feedback and fine control that is required to perform an action as complicated as typing on a keyboard.
That, claims director of innovations and strategy Vincent Tucker, is where Logitech comes in. 'I am excited to introduce the Bridge developers kit, an SDK [Software Development Kit] aimed at helping app makers and SW [software] developers solve the problem of text entry in virtual reality,' Tucker explains in a blog post on HTC's Vive portal. 'During our initial explorations of VR, we were struck by the fact that keyboard use and text entry were necessary but not natural — and we’ve heard similar complaints from others. Our motivation comes from the research-backed understanding that in certain situations the user still needs a keyboard to interact with applications, particularly in productivity-driven or desktop scenarios, but also in games, social applications and content browsing.
'We believe that a physical keyboard should be present, as it delivers essential tactile feedback and a universal experience that people value. Whether you are using a keyboard for gaming, communication or productivity, it is an effective and efficient tool. Besides letters, numbers and symbols, keyboards provide a range of modifier keys for more complex actions, all learned, perhaps painfully, and stored in your memory over years of use.'
The Bridge system works by locating the Vive Tracker at a precise point to the upper-corner of the keyboard, which is then used to orient a virtual version in the VR space. The tracking is, the company claims, accurate enough that when you poke a particular key in the virtual world you're hitting the exact same key on the physical keyboard. Better still, the system allows for multiple 'skins' to be overlaid on top of the keyboard's avatar offering game-specific icons - though, naturally, never actually adjusting the physical layout.
Logitech has confirmed it is running the Bridge platform through a limited 50-person closed beta, with applications open through to November 16th, and plans to eventually launch the device at $150 (around £115 excluding taxes) with the keyboard, Vive Tracker holder, and software, but without the Vive Tracker itself.